Variety is the Spice

Two Girls' Quest to Taste the World

Hello, Life

by Jane Moneypenny

Closed on condo.

A very useful work bonus came two days later.

Spoiling myself and hiring painters. Got a fridge and washer dryer.

Lost ten pounds and still going by eating better and exercising 5-6/times a week.

Australia/NZ for two weeks booked. Bahamas for a week for my 30th birthday booked.

Started a very low dose of fluoxetine to help with my anxiety. I’ll be really poor by mid-May.

Life is weird, huh?


Buying a House and Going on Vacation

by Jane Moneypenny

“How fun!”

This is the most commonly used phrase I’ve heard in the last month, next to “Well, with mortgage rates so low” and “It’s a great investment.” To me, buying real estate is nothing but stress.

It was already stressful in 2006 when my parents got a tiny downtown Chicago studio in my name to help my sad expensive freelancer taxes. At that time, I only showed up one day and signed a bunch of papers people put in front of me.

Now, I find every choice weighs heavily on me (as do most things for I am an anxious person). Am I doing the right thing? Is this the right place? Why is it so expensive? Why is 20% down so hard to get? Is it okay that I’ll be broke for a little bit because I don’t want to pay the pesky PMI? Is that inspection list all things I need to worry about? What if they don’t want to fix it? What color should the walls be? Should I re-tile the backsplash? What if I have a heart attack at 29 from stress and anxiety?

Most importantly, will I still be able to travel? With a very generous four weeks vacation, I find that life has gifted me a wonderful dream but ironically, I now will be poor from this condo. More time, no money. More money, no time. I’m going from zero debt to a nice hefty mortgage. I just learned that the term “mortgage” originated in France with the meaning of “death pledge.”

For my sanity, travel has to always be there. So yes, I’m buying a house and then scraping every mile I have to fly to Australia/New Zealand for two weeks right after. Then, another week to somewhere in the Caribbean in early May to celebrate my big 30th. Insane? Oh, of course. Poor money choices? Probably. Am I still going to do it? Hell yes.

Time to pick up a second job. Anyone need a babysitter? I need to go to therapy.

Lessons from 30-somethings

by Jane Moneypenny

Two things I learned while hanging out with my tennis team the other day (mostly single girls in their 30s):

  1. Freeze your eggs by 34.
  2. Start getting botox now.


Those People that Will Never Stop Loving You

by Jane Moneypenny

Sometimes I think I may be the only one who can’t stand my family. At close
distances, anyway. Across state lines, I’m great. I’m the perfect daughter
then. In person, I’ve actually considered jumping in front of a train out
of sheer frustration.

When traveling with friends, getting lost or trying to interpret a foreign
language are adventures that become funny memorable stories. When traveling
with my family, these experiences become irritating angry arguments with a
level of seething rage that makes me question my desire to ever talk to
them again.

Of course, guilt sets in as I think about my parents in their early 30s
dragging ten suitcases to the Taipei airport for us to move across the
globe to America. The story is legendary: my two month old sister in an
actual basket and two year old me in their arms. Who am I to complain? I
had a normal happy childhood compared to most children of tiger moms.

So I promise myself to behave, to smile and to be grateful for a normal
family. Five minutes later, another argument ensues and the cycle begins
all over again.

Traveling with my family brings out the worst in me but traveling with
friends brings out the best in me. How do people have healthy happy
relationships with their families? Is this only possible for me to have
when not in the same state? Does this make me a terrible daughter and
sister? Do I cop an attitude because it’s family and thus, they will never
stop loving me? With friends, no one dares act like this or loneliness will
set in fast.

True, I came back to Taiwan mostly due to a complete failure of plans to go
elsewhere since no one could travel with me. But I also know my grandmother
isn’t getting younger, my aunts haven’t seen me in seven years, and it
means something to my parents. Yet, I can’t stop fighting them on every turn. Ebb and flow. I think I may be a terrible person.

In other news, Seoul has a museum about its history using electronic mini teddy bears.

First World Problems: Wanderlust

by Jane Moneypenny

I’m going to preface this entry by saying these problems are incredibly first world and I feel guilty even having to speak about it, but I needed to vent out.

My initial plans for Chile fell through, and after hitting up a few other friends for their plans, I’ve come down to going back to Taiwan (after 7 years away) to visit family and friends. Good news is I can fly stand-by 1st class (for a standard economy flight price) internationally which is a DREAM since my aunt works for an airline and I’m going to visit her. The bad news is that it’s stand-by so who knows if I’ll ever get on.

Second: As much as I love Taiwan, there is absolutely no way I can spend two entire weeks through without going insane. Between the constant jabs at my singledom and my “obesity” (yes, I’m very normal by American standards, but was considered obese 20 lbs ago by Asia), I don’t think my mental state, no matter what strong it is this year, can handle it. So I will flee to another Asian country.

Third: Lucky me! An old friend will also be in Taiwan suffering through the same questions about being 29 and single. We talk about escaping. I discover her parents, for some reason, have nixed her going to “less developed” (or as they say “unsafe”) countries. Countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Mongolia have been killed automatically despite being like most other countries: safe if you’re smart. Because I’ve already been to Japan, Thailand, Singapore, China and Hong Kong, it has come down to South Korea.

Now, I love Korean culture, love the food and visited when I was five and remember nothing, but I have this nagging feeling it’s somewhere I can always go in the future with family. It’s not somewhere I’m really up for being so young and still up for backpacking to “less developed” countries, so it’s always been low on my list. My friend has also rarely traveled (and we all know my spring adventures with newbie travelers) and keeps asking about tour groups (gag). I worry out travel styles will clash. I worry that I scream if she has to check-in w/ her parents every possible moment. I worry that I’m not living my life to the fullest (this is clearly an ongoing anxiety for me).

So what do I do? I really do love traveling with the right people and would rather not doing it alone. First world problems, I tell ya.


Asia or South America?

by Jane Moneypenny

Now that I have a wonderful freeing four weeks of vacation, I get to actually take more than my usual one week off for Thanksgiving. The plan was somewhere in South America, most likely Chile/Easter Island. Last week, my friend Jamie who was with me in Peru and Europe, dropped the news she purchased a flight to Burma. Alone. And she wanted me to go with her.

Of couse, going to Burma brings up so many questions and concerns. Is it safe? Is it morally okay given all the human rights issues? Is it expensive? I did intensive research, reading as many recent articles, interviews and blogs about people’s experiences. As of now, 99.9% were positive about the beauty of the country, the people and traveling in a way to fund money to citizens and not the government. 

The flight, on the other hand, is a ridiculous $1850 from Austin and unlike South America or Europe, I can’t fly on miles. I could fly stand-by first class cheaply with the airline my aunt works at, but getting on the flight is incredibly risky and can’t be guaranteed until the day of. I can buy a cheap flight to SF to meet Jamie and pay $1150 for the international flight, also. Oh, what to do? 

My heart still tugs towards South America, but I also haven’t been to Asia in 7 long years. With a flight stopover in Taipei, I could even stay and visit family for a few days. But that flight is so dreadful. So long. So painful. And the jet lag coming back will be incredibly painful as I have a wedding in San Diego the weekend after.

First world problems, that’s what it is.

Wanderlust Returns

by Jane Moneypenny

Chile. Anyone been there? Thoughts? Or should I go to Argentina? Or Ecuador?

Now that I have a glorious four weeks at this new job (that is going swimmingly well and I may be very close to declaring it love), I can take a little longer than my yearly Thanksgiving week to South or Central America.

Next spring, I hope to hit up Australia and NZ for my big 30th birthday.

Life is suddenly much more refreshing with the world at my fingertips and the time to explore it. Keep on, keepin’ on, my friends.

Change Will Do You Good

by Jane Moneypenny

Fortune Cookies

My last three fortune cookies have been strangely accurate.

Two years of a poisonious environment. Five months of desperately applying to every job possible. One very failed interview in February. Three companies popping out of nowhere.

One beautiful amazing job offer that will get me out of this abusive place that has turned into something that I’m not.

Last Thursday afternoon, I had a horrible annual review with my boss and the previously mentioned Cranky Bully. People said some ridiculous untrue things about me (“I caught her hiding from the project managers once to avoid work”) and some very true things (“she’s ver negative”). The latter part of the statements hit me hard; I didn’t deny them, but I’ve realized (from talking to former co-workers) that this place was so bad for me that I’ve become this person I didn’t recognize. Any job beforehand, whether I hated it or not, I would still smile and do the work (“Rainbows and sunshine! That’s what you are!” said a former co-worker). But at this place, Cranky Bully and the environment has turned me into a resentful scared negative employee.

When I got the official offer Friday morning, I almost yelled “FREEDOM!” throughout the office. My boss and his boss took it incredibly well and were happy for me, understanding that I just couldn’t flourish here. The job couldn’t be more perfect for my next move. I’ll no longer be in traditional advertising as I’m going client-side. No more billable hours, no more inane client changes. Of course, every company has the same B.S., but it’s a perfect change for me as I look more into working on user experience design. The most exciting part is a 18% raise to finally be paid what I deserve AND four glorious weeks of vacation (I have been suffering with two weeks for the last four years).

So what now? I do what I can these last two weeks to at least leave with a decent reputation and then I have a wonderful week off. My parents are itching to take a family vacation to Canada, but I would rather go to Nicaragua or spend time in NOLA and then visiting friends throughout the country.

Whatever the case, change is coming. My therapist said I just need to have the faith; I was already doing everything I could to change life.  Looks like my resolutions for 2012 are doing quite well!

“‎The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson


That Time I Hiked Alone. Again.

by Jane Moneypenny

You have got to be kidding me. Somehow, again, I’ve been ditched during hiking again. In the vastness that is Big Bend National Park, in the most remote area of Texas, I have fallen behind. As we all know, I have a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with hiking. After Kilimanjaro, Machu Picchu and many small hikes in between, I’ve come to understand I’m a very slow hiker. Actually, I’m just a ridiculously slow hiker on uphill switchbacks.

In my defense, I have driven the eight hours the night before, getting in at 1:30am with about four hours of restless sleep before waking up at 6:30 to drive another two hours to the park. And without breakfast because everyone was rushing me.

In a group of six, three people dart off as we agree to meet at Emory Peak, a four mile detour up and down from the South Rim trail. The other two patiently wait for me. After awhile, we know this isn’t going to work. I don’t want the two waiting for me to miss the Peak and in a 12-hour hike, it’s very possible at the rate we’re going. I offer up to skip the peak and go ahead; we’re all confident the group will catch up with me soon.

So with a bag of beef jerky, dry mango slices and my two liters of water, I’m off! I’m returned to all my failed hikes before, but I’m determined to keep going. With my blood sugar higher and switchbacks gone, I march on faster and quicker, following the mileage signs for the South Rim. When I finally reach the top, I’m treated to this breathtaking view of the valley:



I wait for some time as I munch on jerky and try to take self-portraits, but after 30 minutes, I know I should keep moving. The problem now is, where do I go? In our haste to move and the assumption they would find me, I forgot to look at a map, have a copy of the map or ask if it was a 360 loop or if I’m going down the same way. I finally spot a sign but the arrows are going both ways with no indication of mileage (remember, I have NO knowledge of anything at this point), so I make an educated guess this must be the top of the loop, and I can go the opposite way which will put me at the end.

After passing a few people and signs, I’m confident I’m going the right way. All South Rim signs have mileage and are pointing to the top where I’ve just been, so I must be going down the other side. After some time, the people and signs fade away and suddenly, it gets very sunny and hot. Earlier, one of my friends commented he was relieved it was only 87 today because if we were hiking down by the river, it was 103. I begin to panic.

Am I going the right way? I know I won’t come across people again since they would have had to left as early as we did from the other side. How much longer do I have to go? Would I get attacked by a lion or bear (very possible)? Would I run out of water? I start half-hyperventalating , half-self-soothing. I’ve been alone before; it’s just one step in front of the other. I’m going down the mountain, so at any rate, I’ll get to the bottom and find help, but what’s at the bottom? What if it’s the river with no one around? In my pack: jerky and mango, a lighter (but with wildfires a big threat, that’s out), a head lamp, binoculars, froggz chilling pad, sun block and bug spray.

I don’t have time to stop and rest much because the bugs won’t stop bullying me, literally buzzing loudly non-stop around my head. I start slowing conserving water, being careful with stepping down in case of tripping or falling off the edge and keeping track of the sun location. When I stop moving, there is complete silence except the sounds of nature. Somehow, I calm myself down (“Don’t be that person who loses it in stressful emergency situations!”) and begin to pray for a sign that I’m going the right way. Every time I slipped into panic, the bugs buzz louder and I eventually take it as a sign from God or life that I’m okay.

Hours pass and I finally hear voices that are not in my head. I see happy cheerful people climbing up a small slope and I spot a sign. It’s the same sign as I saw on top of the South Rim with arrows pointing either way with no mileage. Do I keep going or do I assume this is the start of the loop? The surroundings aren’t familiar from our start, but I’m around people now, so at worst, I’ll get a ride back to the start. So I climb my last slope, crash into a family’s patio and ask for a map.

“Where did you start?” I had no idea. The map is foreign to me. They direct me to the store and hotel down the way and I breathe a sigh of relief. I remember a mention of a hotel when we arrived! So I practically run the last half mile down the paved road and spot our horrible ugly bug-ridden Dodge van.

In that moment, all anger and frustrations fade away. I’m alive. I got out without a map and with logic and wits alone. Part of me knows I would have never been in that situation if I was a better hiker and smarter about my resources (granted, I really thought they would have caught up), but the other part of me is so proud. The store manager lets me hang out inside so avoid the bugs as I write myself a postcard.

An hour later, two of my fastest friends appear. They’re exhausted and barely moving (ha! I was feeling fine physically other than some old injuries). The other three are slower due to one of the girls crying in pain from the downhills. The seem shocked to see me alive and way ahead of schedule. They explain they had lunch at the peak and hiked along, thinking they would find me, but they took a wrong turn and somehow re-hiked part of the route. Arguments ensued, even though they had a map! The competitive/resentful part of me cheers internally for my awesomeness.

But even with my awesomeness, I think it’s time to hang up the hiking boots. So farewell, my friends, you’ve been a formidable foe.



by Jane Moneypenny

“How old are you?”

The hair stylists asks me as she stares at my face.

“I’m about to be 29 on Thursday. Ugh.”

She gapes at me in disbelief.

“That’s impossible. I thought you were 22 or 23. You have no wrinkles!”

My response: “You get wrinkles at 29?!”

After posting this funny exchange on Facebook, I got a lot of girls laughing at me because apparently many women in theirs 20s have wrinkles, especially mothers. Thank God for Asian genetics, huh?

I’m still in a little bit of denial about coming one year closer to 30, no matter how many people tell me the 30s were the best time of their lives. At this point, I feel myself inching close to another life crisis, simliar to the quarterlife one I had a few years ago.

I have a good active healthy life, love the city I’m in, have good friends after filtering out the bad ones. Despite all this, I feel like I’m running in place and going nowhere. The job search is brutally hard and empty, the guy situation is bleak (someone broke a 1st date with me last minute because he couldn’t handle my non-drinking choice) and I’m giving up on the idea I’ll ever like running.

First world problems. It’ll work itself out, right? Just gotta keep on keepin’ on.